Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Art > Rock Art

The pictographs of Cueva Blanca

Around 400 B.C., in the Upper Salado River basin, a style of rock painting emerged that had never been seen before in the region. This style was radically different from the earlier Confluencia style in certain aspects, such as the gradual disappearance of anatomical details in human and animal figures and the loss of images suggesting movement. The relative numberof camelid figures also is lower in the Cueva Blanca style, while human figures are painted in frontal perspective and there is a significant increase in geometric motifs such as crosses, wavy and zigzagged lines. The Cueva Blanca style closely follows the conventions of textile decoration used at the time, during which textiles had tremendous prestige in the Andes and had become the main marker of identity, wealth and status among Atacameña societies. Indeed, many of images of the Cueva Blanca style are framed as though they were textile pieces.

In the Cueva Blanca style human figures are depicted more frequently and in more central roles in the panels, while camelid images gradually become more schematic and marginal, sometimes disappearing altogether. The representation of individuals with poweremblems (sceptres) positioned hierarchically above other figures in the same composition points to distinctions in status that were likely based on the control of certain resources, especially given the increasing importance of agriculture and livestock among societies of the time. These portrayals reflect a shift from an organizationally simple herding and horticulturalist economy to one with more complex social and labor divisions.

Location: Upper Salado River Basin, Region II of Antofagasta
Timeline: Approximately 400 B.C.–1000 A.D.
Style: Cueva Blanca

Source: F. Gallardo, C. Sinclaire and C. Silva, 1999, “Arte rupestre, emplazamiento y paisaje en la cordillera del desierto de Atacama,” in Arte rupestre en los Andes de Capricornio, J. Berenguer and F. Gallardo, eds., pp. 68-70, Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Santiago.